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Internal criticism on Huawei’s ad campaign highlights its comms struggle

While Huawei’s smartphone and routers business is pulling in the bucks, it looks like the technology firm is stumbling in the area of its image – both internally and externally.

According to an article on the Wall Street Journal, one global ad campaign is painfully highlighting the company’s internal dissent.

“The journey is hard. And joyful,” reads the ad copy. Launched earlier in the year, the ballerina ad is the first in a year-long international corporate image campaign, running in China, the U.K., Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

Founder Ren Zhengfei had selected a photograph of a ballerina’s feet, one in an intact ballerina shoe, the other torn and exposing a bruised foot.

While Ren saw it as a symbol of the hardship Huawei overcame starting up in a Shenzhen apartment, this did not bring him much favour, said the WSJ piece.

And this dissent came from within. The article added that Huawei employees viewed the image as “negative and introspective” on the company’s internal employee forum. A quick look at crowdsourced site Glassdoor highlighted issues such as poor work-life balance, an overly strong Chinese culture, poor communications and more. However, to be fair, users also posted some positive comments such as good pay, and thriving environment. Marketing is reaching out to Huawei.

Huawei already pulls in more revenue from international markets than in China. However, it’s clear the firm knows it needs to turn around its image.

Huawei has also been investing heavily in its image. It appointed WPP, which has set up a team for the brand’s account called TeamHuawei in a high profile appointment in end 2012. Huawei has also hired various different agencies in various markets as well. For example, it hired Lewis PR and Vizeum in Malaysia, and Isobar in China and Singapore.

Only, this looks easier said than done.

Earlier in June this year, the company came under fire for another PR gaffe, as a piece by the Australian Financial Review did its rounds.

A government-organised tour riled journalists as it became defensive questions on national security as United States banned it from working on government projects in 2011. Then, close to 30-odd reporters were told they could not write about Huawei, only perpetuating a poor image of Huawei as a paranoid Chinese organisation.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, Ren said of Huawei’s image: “There are misperceptions, both in China and abroad, about Huawei… And I believe as long as we work hard on our direction, our identity could be proved,” he said.

Can the tech giant make the right moves ahead?

“Huawei needs to appreciate that whilst they have a huge domestic market in China that supports them, they are a global brand, wherein its overseas business outstrips domestic sales. Their local and global PR teams need to be in sync and they must respect journalists and be willing to educate and inform them if they are keen to engage them,”said Prantik Mazumdar, partner, Happy Marketer.

Mazumdar refers to the idea of a digital or social media command centre for Huawei, a trend many firms such as Philips, Intel, Lenovo and more have picked up on. “This would sensitise their PR team to the actual damage such incidents can have on the brand and they can then take correct measures. Such a system would also help them gauge the benefits in a positive scenario too.”

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